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Spirits dim over loss of AEP power plant

BEVERLY – It is a quiet scene as American Electric Power’s Muskingum River Plant, settled in the Beverly-Waterford community for the past several decades, prepares to close its gates for good this month.

“People take for granted how much goes into this,” said plant manager Nathan Long. “It’s not just flipping a switch.”

AEP’s coal power plant on Sparling Road officially went offline May 14, and just a small handful of employees remain at the enormous, rural facility to tie up loose ends.

With some employees headed for other AEP facilities and others toward other jobs, community members and longtime staff hope that the company’s bright presence in the area will continue someday in the form of another industry.

“I’ve been here 28 years at this same plant, and it speaks for the area and the community and the workers here,” Long said, who will help AEP oversee the decommissioning of other regional facilities. “It’s been a good place to work.”

As part of stricter regulations handed down from the Environmental Protection Agency years ago, AEP is in the process of closing several of its coal-burning facilities, including the four units originally built in Morgan County in 1953 and the fifth unit opened in Washington County in the 1960s.

The Muskingum River Plant facility has a generating capacity of 1,425 megawatts that sits across both counties, and shortly after opening, soon reached between 350-400 employees.

“We’re experimenting with different avenues right now,” Long said. “We hope some other industry will come here.”

Long said that by about the end of the week, about 14 of the plant’s remaining employees will leave after workers finished burning down the facilities coal supply, while the rest of what originally totaled about 80 full-time workers will be all gone by June 19.

“We’ve placed 27 people at other AEP facilities, and they’ve been leaving over the course of the past few months and even into last year,” Long said. “We’ve got 46 that are of retirement age that will be going that way, and another 10 that will just be leaving for other jobs.”

Once such employee is Walter Delancey, who put in 33 years at the plant in operations and labor.

“In my age you got a job and stayed there,” Delancey said. “I’m headed to explore other options now.”

Jim Pool, who started with the company in 1984, is finishing up supervising shifts of workers and making sure the plant is ready to be closed before transferring to the Waterford facility just around the corner.

“It is a family here,” Pool said. “We all try to take care of everything together.”

As part of environmental regulations and operating needs, the plant finished up burning down its coal supply, and will eventually move on to draining its three-pond system while contractors come in to drain oils and greases and abate asbestos.

“It will eventually be demolished,” Long said. “It’ll take three to four years to bring it all down.”

Washington County Commissioner Ron Feathers said the plant’s closure is an unfortunate blow to the area.

“It’s going to be a detriment to the Waterford area, not just the tax base but jobs,” he said. “But the infrastructure is there. There’s the water, railways, roads. It’s an excellent place to start something.”

Feathers said AEP has not been in any talks with commissioners about future plans, but AEP notes that it hopes to help work with industry to bring something new to the area.

“We’d like to see if they can repurpose the area for some economic benefit to replace what was left,” said Beverly Mayor Rex Kenyon. “Hopefully there is some warehousing or manufacturing that can go in up there.”

School districts like Fort Frye and Wolf Creek that receive utility tax funds from the area of the plant that covers Washington County stand to lose some $800,000 to more than $1 million in annual revenue, though Kenyon said there are other concerns besides economic ones.

“From a bigger picture, it’s going to hurt because the generating capacity is not being replaced, so we run the risk of having more brown-outs and less reliable electricity,” Kenyon said. “That will have an impact on homes and businesses.”

Long said AEP has worked hard to be a contributing member of its community, and the company will miss the partnership.

“Our people have participated in our fair boards, Rotary, chamber of commerces, and as athletic coaches here,” Long said. “We’ve even been working to donate some of our materials and equipment to schools and other local organizations.”

As part of the transition plan, AEP phased out both the Muskingum River Plant and the Picway plant in the Columbus area in addition to five other plants in West Virginia, Indiana and Virginia.